During our time with the Skoda Karoq, I managed to bag a drive in the updated version of the Nissan Qashqai – the king of the C-SUV segment and the car Skoda wants to beat with the Karoq.
It was an enlightening experience, highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of both cars and convincing me that while the Qashqai is the market leader the Skoda should have it worried.
Chief among the Skodaâ€™s strengths are the way it looks, feels and drives. The Nissan is inoffensive to look at but the Skoda is more purposefully styled. More importantly, though, the Karoqâ€™s interior is light-years ahead of the Qashqaiâ€™s in layout, materials and design. The whole ambiance is far superior in the Skoda, from the quality of the plastic to the operation of the infotainment.
Skoda Karoq Edition
Price: Â£28,415 (Â£29,885 as tested)
Engine: 1.5-litre, four-cylinder, turbo, petrol
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic
Top speed: 126mph
0-62mph: 8.6 seconds
Economy: 50.4mpg (NEDC)
CO2 emissions: 127g/km
The Skodaâ€™s 1.5-litre petrol also feels smoother, punchier and quieter than the Qashqaiâ€™s, despite giving away around 10bhp. But the Nissan fights back with better economy and emissions figures.
The Skoda also concedes ground to the Nissan in other areas. The Qashqai has it beaten hands down on rear space – a key component for families. Iâ€™ve found myself having to sit closer to the wheel than I like in order to fit one of our kids behind me in the Skoda. It also feels tight in the back for leg, head and shoulder room compared with the Nissan. It does claw back some credit with a bigger boot which, thanks to our test carâ€™s Â£150 virtual pedal has complete hands-free operation for when youâ€™re laden down.
The Karoq also has the Varioflex seating that allows the rear seats to slide, fold and be removed individually. It does add some extra flexibilty but removing the seats is cumbersome and you still donâ€™t get a flat luggage area. Iâ€™m not convinced by the system – sliding seats are only useful if youâ€™ve got legroom to spare, which it doesnâ€™t.
The space issue had me pondering the Karoqâ€™s big brother the Kodiaq. Our previous long-term Kodaiq was around Â£3,000 more expensive than the Karoq but offered lots more space and practicality plus an extra 5mpg from its torquey diesel engine. Our Â£29,885 Karoq is a particularly high-spec model with big wheels, a panoramic roof, full LED lights and a host of assistance and convenience systems. But even in a lower spec the Kodiaq comes with many of these as well simply because it sits in the class above.
If you donâ€™t need or want the extra space of the bigger car itâ€™s a moot point but the proximity of the two models makes it an uncomfortable comparison for the Karoq, in my eyes.
The economy issue also comes down to individual needs but after a very dodgy start, the Karoq settled at an average of 40mpg over the 3000-plus miles we put on it.
I liked the Karoq at its launch and three months with it have convinced me that it is quite possibly the best C-segment SUV out there.
Part of that is how well it handles the basics. The interior is a touch drab but itâ€™s easy to see the time and effort thatâ€™s gone into making it easy to use and ensuring everything you touch and see is high quality. Itâ€™s also good to drive – a touch firmer than many rivals but more controlled and direct – and the 1.5 petrol engine is strong and quiet.
But the small things also enhance the Karoqâ€™s appeal. Little touches like the way the heated wheel is linked to the seats, the way the infotainment buttons â€œzoomâ€ when your hand gets close to the screen and the ice-scraper and umbrella hidden on board knock the Qashqaiâ€™s curry hook into a cocked hat.
The Karoqâ€™s only big weakness is rear space that feels more restricted than some rivals, particularly that Qashqai. Thereâ€™s also the previously mentioned issue of the price of higher-end models.
Almost every car in this segment has individual strengths. The Karoq isnâ€™t the best in every area but it offers probably the most convincing complete package.